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3 things to know as Mariners enter huge AL West battle vs Rangers

Jun 14, 2024, 9:28 AM

Seattle Mariners players celebrate...

Josh Rojas and Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners celebrate during a 2024 game. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The month of June is typically a time the Seattle Mariners are playing catch-up, but that’s not the story in 2024.

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After taking three of four games from the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners are nine games above .500 at 40-31. They lead the American League West by 5 1/2 games over second-place Texas (33-35), and the Rangers are coming to town Friday for an important three-game showdown at T-Mobile Park.

Here are three observations as Seattle shifts its focus back to an AL West rival.

Chaos ball is back for Seattle Mariners

When the Mariners produced back-to-back 90-win campaigns in 2021 and 2022, they did it in large part because of their stellar play in the late innings of close games. Seattle won 90 games in 2021 despite a minus-51 run differential, which was by far the worst among teams with winning records. However, the Mariners were an astounding 33-19 in one-run games and 14-7 in extra innings. Both of those win totals led MLB.

The late-inning success continued in 2022 when Seattle again led the majors with 34 one-run wins and posted an 11-5 record in extra innings on its way to breaking a 21-year playoff drought. The good times in the late innings didn’t keeping rolling 2023, though. The team posted losing record in both of those situations, including 6-14 in extra innings.

The Mariners have recaptured their late-inning magic thus far in 2024 with an MLB-best 16 wins in one-run games and 5-2 in extra innings, and it was evident against the White Sox. After trailing 4-0 entering the bottom of the eighth Monday, the M’s rallied for a dramatic 8-4 comeback victory on Cal Raleigh’s walk-off grand slam. Raleigh delivered in the clutch again the following night with a go-ahead two-run double in the bottom of the seventh during a 4-3 win. It was Mitch Haniger’s turn Wednesday night, as the veteran came through with a walk-off, pinch-hit RBI single in the 10th inning to win 2-1. And despite losing 3-2 Thursday night, Seattle forced extras on a one-out solo home run by Julio Rodríguez in the ninth inning.

The first three games in particular continued a trend of the lineup stepping up in high-leverage situations.

Many of Seattle’s overall offensive numbers rank towards the bottom of the league. They entered Thursday 28th in batting average (.222), 25th in on-base percentage (.300), 24th in slugging (.367) and last in strikeout rate (27.2%). But most of those numbers change dramatically when it comes to the team’s high-leverage splits.

In high-leverage situations, Seattle ranks first in batting average (.311) and on-base percentage (.391), third in slugging (.481) and 21st in strikeout rate (23.5%), per FanGraphs. The team’s 148 wRC+ in those scenarios is tied for second, trailing only the New York Yankees.

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A prime opportunity

Series in June aren’t known to be what determines a season, but the Mariners could really help themselves out while making a bit of a statement this weekend when they face the Rangers.

Seattle has a chance to push its lead over Texas to as many as 8 1/2 games, and this very well could be the last time this season the M’s see the Rangers not at full strength. Texas is still awaiting the return of injured Cy Young-winners Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, the latter of whom is scheduled to make his third and potentially final rehab start Friday night. Additionally, outfielder Evan Carter and third baseman Josh Jung – both promising young players who were key members of last year’s World Series run – are on the IL.

Another Texas star could be limited in the series as well. Shortstop Corey Seager, the younger brother of longtime Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, is dealing with a hamstring issue that kept him out of the lineup Thursday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it does sound as if he’ll will be available this weekend. Rangers beat writer Evan Grant from The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday that manager Bruce Bochy was optimistic about Seager’s chances to play in the series.

While the Rangers are dealing with injury issues, the Mariners are dealing with some of their own. First baseman Ty France and second baseman Jorge Polanco will still be on the IL this weekend, as will left-handed reliever Gabe Speier. Closer Andrés Muñoz has also been limited recently due to lower-back issues and pitched just once in the series against the White Sox, despite all four games being close.

Seattle doesn’t face Texas again until September when the rivals play six times.

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Pitching depth pays off

Seattle’s pitching staff has been a revolving door of sorts with a handful of bullpen arms coming and going and right-hander Bryan Woo being scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday.

Related: Mariners receive ‘clean’ results from Bryan Woo’s MRI

Despite all of that, Seattle is coming out of the series against Chicago in probably as good of a spot as it could ask for thanks to spot starts by a pair of minor-league call-ups. Left-hander Jhonathan Díaz pitched 5 1/3 solid innings in place of Woo on Tuesday, and the Mariners made the decision to bring right-hander Emerson Hancock up for Thursday’s outing. He responded with a career-high seven innings, which marked the third time in the series a starter pitched into the seventh.

Hancock’s start on Thursday allowed Seattle to push back the rest of the rotation a day during the stretch run of a 43-games-in-45-days gauntlet that started May 3 and ends Sunday. In a pregame press conference Wednesday, general manager Justin Hollander said the rotation could use some extra rest due to the grueling schedule.

“I think all of our guys could use it, to be honest,” Hollander said. “… That’s a lot for pitchers to go out there (every turn in the rotation). Our guys pitch deep into the games. Even as efficient as they are, they work hard, and making sure that we do the right thing for our starters has been really paramount to every thought that we have had as a front office, as a coaching staff, as a training staff. So I think all of our guys could use a couple days, and we’re going to make sure that we treat those guys right and do the right thing for our season long-term.”

In addition to providing a day of extra rest, it allowed the Mariners to align their three most established pitchers to face Texas. Luis Castillo pitches Friday, followed by George Kirby and Logan Gilbert.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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